By Oxfam India
By Andrio Naskar and Suprio Chattopadhyay*
India’s unique geo-climatic position makes the country particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. Since 1970, the number of natural disaster has quadrupled globally.1 With unusual natural disasters like the Jammu & Kashmir floods, Uttarakhand landslides, cyclone HudHud, Kerala floods and landslides of 2018 becoming more frequent, India has got the position of the third worst affected country in the world.
In the last 17 years, India has faced more than 300 natural disasters which include drought, earthquake, epidemics, extreme temperature, floods, landslides and storms. These disasters have resulted in 76,031 deaths in this millennium, according to the International Disaster Database (IDD).2 Cumulatively, more than 1 billion people have suffered owing to natural disasters. The estimated damage sustained by India in the last 17 years due to these disasters amounts to USD 63.6 billion (Rs 4,06,035 crore), according to the database.
India was the lead recipient of human impacts of disasters caused by natural hazards in 2017 with around 2,300 deaths and 22.5 million people affected in particular by floods and storms3. As per mid-year assessment, floods in India caused highest number of internally displaced people than any other disaster around the world in 2018.4
Today, with 364 million people living in multi-dimensional poverty, India has the largest number of such people in the world.5 Given the fact that disasters and poverty are closely linked to each other, the greater severity and frequency of disasters lead towards the greater humanitarian need. Natural disasters have the ability to drive poor people further into the spiral of poverty and reduces their capacity to recover from social shocks and economic losses.
Moreover, given their weaker social and economic status, women and people from socio- economically marginalised section are more vulnerable during disasters. Additionally, children, people with disability and ailing individuals also bear additional challenges for their survival during the disaster. All these factors contribute towards considering the disaster response and management a key focus in the realm of development discourse across the globe.
Thus, it is essential that we look at disaster management from the development angle. It is no longer either a one-off or stand-alone activity. Disaster risk reduction cuts across different aspects and sectors of development. There are 25 targets related to disaster risk reduction in 10 of the 17 SDGs, firmly establishing the role of disaster risk reduction as a core development strategy.
In the field of humanitarian response, rehabilitation and Disaster Risk reduction (DRR) initiatives, Oxfam is a leading actor around the world. Our objective is to save life and livelihoods of people and making them resilient to face natural disasters and conflicts.
To tackle people’s vulnerability to risk, there is a need to empower communities and individuals to know and claim their basic human rights. Within the framework of a rights-based approach, in humanitarian action, Oxfam is committed to prioritizing the rights of women, men, boys and girls to life with dignity irrespective of their socio- economic position. Oxfam strives to be with people affected by disasters to ensure that their voices are heard. In this process, Oxfam supports people to claim their rights and hold duty bearers to account for the provision of quality assistance and protection from violence, coercion and deliberate deprivation.
Our involvement suggests that in many cases, the worst affected population remains outside the purview of external assistance because of their apparently invisible nature. There are many factors, many of which remain outside the focus of the modalities of implementing projects and finally causing inappropriate targeting of the families for providing humanitarian assistance, be it flood relief or Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) interventions.
The commonest factor that causes the exclusion of the worst affected families in the humanitarian intervention could be mentioned as the locational disadvantage. The excluded groups that include people from Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribes and the poorest of the poor section in most of the cases remain at the most vulnerable geography that remains inaccessible during the situation assessment. Unless there is a focused attempt to identify those areas and then understanding their actual needs, the stereotypical methods of target selection will result into inappropriate selection of families. This in turn reduces the impact of the overall attempts of providing humanitarian aid to the people who actually require that.
In many contexts gender inequalities (irrespective of the socio- economic status) constrain the influence and control of women and girls over decisions governing their lives as well as their access to resources such as finance, food, agricultural inputs, land and property, technologies, education, health (including sexual and reproductive health), secure housing and employment. Due to existing socio-economic conditions, cultural beliefs and traditional practices, women are more likely to be disproportionately affected by disasters, including increased loss of livelihoods, gender-based violence, and even loss of life during and in the aftermath of disasters.
Our latest experience of working to extend assistance to the disaster affected people in North East Indian states, Kerala floods and people in worst affected areas by Cyclone ‘Titli’ also made us realise the dire necessity of ensuring an ‘Inclusive approach’ in humanitarian response and rehabilitation works.
Apparently, a piecemeal approach towards floods relief and rehabilitation measures can’t address the necessity of the situation and India. To tackle people’s vulnerability to risk, there is a need to empower communities and individuals to know and claim their basic human rights. Within the framework of a rights-based approach, in humanitarian action, Oxfam is committed to prioritizing the rights of women, people from marginalised and excluded groups to life with dignity. Oxfam strives to be with people affected by disasters to ensure that their voices are heard. In this process, Oxfam supports people to claim their rights and hold duty bearers to account for the provision of quality assistance and protection from violence, coercion and deliberate deprivation.
There is a paradigm shift in flood relief from the perspective of supporting the affected people. Government of India, shown very clearly the ability of its empowerment and capacity in rescue and relief. Looking at the India’s position, the larger funding agencies has stopped direct supporting and focusing on advocacy and coordination. The big corporates are more interested to support PM’s /CM’s relief fund. The gap in reaching most vulnerable and meet the immediate need during and soon after crisis with dignity remain unmet. Corporates and individuals needs to the play role of supporting to meet the unmet gap.
Oxfam India has engaged with state governments towards development of Standard Operating Procedures on flood, earthquake, mass casualty management, drought, fire in hospital that contributed in the review of Disaster Management Act, 2005. Oxfam India has remained an active partner and core member of the drafting committee on DRR Roadmap in the state of Bihar. In Assam also, Oxfam India is playing an important role in the process of developing the DRR roadmap for the state. In every cases, the strategic inclination towards ensuring the “Inclusion” of the most vulnerable and excluded population in the humanitarian assistance remained a key focus.
Thus, there is a tremendous need for effective advocacy, communication and using technology and social media to reach the unreached, regional cooperation and coordination among various stakeholders to ensure “Inclusion” of most vulnerable and marginalised subsets of population is vital. Oxfam India and its partners work closely to undertake various advocacy and influencing activities to establish the fact that even in daunting economic times, the world can afford to meet the humanitarian needs of every person struggling to survive a disaster.
*Andrio Naskar, India Humanitarian Programme Manager- National Humanitarian Hub, Oxfam India. Suprio Chattopadhyay, Humanitarian Fund Raising Coordinator – National Humanitarian Hub, Oxfam India
- Wallemacq P (2018), Natural disasters in 2017: Lower mortality, higher cost, published by Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) Research Institute Health & Society (IRSS), Université catholique de Louvain available at https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/CredCrunch50.pdf accessed dated October 8, 2018
- OPHI (2018), Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2018: The Most Detailed Picture To Date of the World’s Poorest People, published by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative(OPHI) available at https://ophi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Preliminary_global_MPI_Report-2018.pdf accessed dated October 8, 2018